MELBOURNE, March 16- Nico Rosberg opened Formula One’s new era with a dominant victory at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday as world champion Sebastian Vettel and pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton were early casualties.
Rosberg, whose Mercedes team have come out strongest with the sport’s new hybrid technology, led from start to finish and took the chequered flag 24.5 seconds ahead of Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo in his Red Bull debut.
And there was a brilliant third place in his Formula One debut for McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen, 21, who became the first Danish driver ever to reach the podium.
McLaren’s Jenson Button and two-time world champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari finished fourth and fifth, ahead of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari.
But there was no joy for Vettel, the four-time defending world champion, and Mercedes’ 2008 winner Hamilton, who both retired early as this year’s widespread mechanical changes took their toll.
Formula One has switched to quieter, turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 engines this year with hybrid components that will help them to keep within a newly introduced fuel cap of 100 kilos (about 135 litres).
At the start, Rosberg swept to the front from third off the grid and he safely held Ricciardo at bay by 24.5 seconds to give Mercedes the first win of the season.
“I took off from the start like a Silver Arrow and after that the car was really quick today,” said Rosberg, whose father, Keke, won the 1982 world championship.
“The whole team did such a good job on it. It was a really good engine, not much problem with fuel consumption and the reliability was great.
“It was such a reward for all the team’s hard work to dominate in such a way in the first race of the season.”
It was Rosberg’s fourth GP win and his first since Silverstone last year.
But while Mercedes celebrated Rosberg’s win, they lost race favourite Hamilton on lap four lap due to a lack of power. Vettel went out shortly afterwards in his first retirement since last year’s British GP.
Ricciardo replaced Mark Webber at Red Bull this year and achieved what his high-profile compatriot could not with a podium finish at his home GP, in his first drive with the world constructors champions.
“If I look back to where we were three weeks ago this has definitely exceeded my expectations,” Ricciardo said.
“We had never done a race distance up until today, so we didn’t have much confidence that we would see the chequered flag let alone finish in a podium position and we can make a lot of progress from here.”
Denmark’s Magnussen also got on the podium in his first GP race for McLaren, who failed to finish in the top three all last season.
“I just can’t believe it. It’s not a win but it definitely feels like it and the team has been coming off a difficult season and they’ve made this rookie feel really comfortable,” Magnussen said.
Fourteen cars of the 22 finished the race, which had its hair-raising moments on the opening lap.
Felipe Massa and Kamui Kobayashi came off together at the first bend and were out of the race, while Vettel was slowly away and struck trouble at the rear of the field.
Stewards said they would be launching an investigation into the Massa-Kobayashi collision.
The Mercedes team told Hamilton he needed to retire on the second lap, but quickly amended the message to “stay out” on the track.
But Hamilton only lasted another lap before he came into the pits and his under-powered car was taken into the team garage with his race over.
Vettel followed Hamilton out of the race, retiring on his fifth lap with mechanical problems.
Finland’s Bottas scraped a wall and lost his right rear wheel on the 10th lap, bringing out the safety car. He limped back to the pits for new tyres and rejoined the race to go on and finish a creditable sixth.